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'Intrepid Four' Vietnam Deserter Lives In Las Vegas, Writing His Story

Credit: The Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum

Crewmen on the USS Intrepid tend to aircraft during a mission off Vietnam.

As a young sailor on the aircraft carrier USS Intrepid, Craig W. Anderson and three fellow seamen turned war protesters jumped ship after a 1967 mission to the waters off Vietnam.

Anderson told KNPR's State of Nevada that he had conflicted feelings about the war before he enlisted, but many members of his family had been in the military. 

“And so there was this strong sense of duty on the one hand, but I was getting these strong messages that Vietnam was not like these other wars,” he said.

With just 30 days left in his tour of duty, Anderson decided to leave. He said the Vietnamese had no navy and no anti-aircraft weapons that could reach the Intrepid.

“We’re just sitting there with impunity, bombing this country,” he said.

He had also seen what napalm could do. During training, Anderson had seen the chemical burn on top the ocean.

“So what is it doing in villages and in the forest?" he said, "It has got to have just horrible kinds of consequences there.”

Those experiences, coupled with family tragedies at home, helped bring him to the decision to leave.

“Yes, the easy thing to do would have been: come back to Alameda, get a discharge… and then just ride it out,” he said. But instead, he and three other guys left.

The “Intrepid Four,” as they were called, eluded an international manhunt and made their way to the Soviet Union, where they denounced America’s role in the conflict.

Anderson came back to the United States in the early 1970s. He was jailed, received a bad conduct discharge and was shunned by family and friends. Despite that, Anderson believes he did the right thing.

"Because you have to live with yourself in the end," he said, "And in my conscious I know that that war was wrong.”

Anderson spent his life moving around, writing books about ancient history, and working as a movie producer.  

Today he resides in Las Vegas, writing his life story and wondering why there is no peace movement even though America has been at war for more than 15 years.

“Americans are complicit now," he said, "They’re complicit about the process that is going on in this country now.”

Anderson doesn't believe the country learned its lesson with Vietnam and points to the war in Iraq as the example. 

"I think we got a repeat with Iraq," he said, "We were lied to again like the Tonkin Gulf about weapons of mass destruction that didn't exist." 

He said his frustration with the war in Iraq is partly why he is speaking out now about what he did and why.

As for the rest of the Intrepid Four, one of the men has died, one lives in Canada and one still lives in Sweden, which gave them all asylum when they jumped ship. 

(Editor's Note: This interview original aired in February 2017)

Craig W. Anderson, Vietnam War deserter and writer; Kathy Watterson, friend and literary agent

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With deep experience in journalism, politics, and the nonprofit sector, news producer Doug Puppel has built strong connections statewide that benefit the Nevada Public Radio audience.